Interview with guitarist Youssef Saleh and vocalist and guitarist Ismaeel Attallah
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 30, 2018
Offspring of ancient Egyptian culture keep their heritage alive in many ways; tourism, breeding camels for a variety of purposes and even a small minority by making music, of the most extreme kind, to be more accurate. In the latter case we are talking about blackened Death Metal warriors Crescent who have just released their second album, The Order of Amenti, through France's Listenable Records, on February 9, 2018 (as a side note, the band's sold-out debut album, Pyramid Slaves, was independently released in 2014).
Crescent's new album has received lots of very flattering feedback from the Metal community and that stirred up interest at The Metal Crypt headquarters.
We decided to learn more about this promising Egyptian Death Metal band, who they are, what's their strategy regarding the future and what it is like to be an extreme Metal band in Egypt in 2018.
Luxi: First off, how are things in Cairo, Egypt?
Youssef: Things are okay here. They have their ups and downs but full of challenges.
Luxi: Secondly, my sincere congrats for bringing us something as excellent as your second full-length album, The Order of Amenti. The album is just a great piece of work, both musically and conceptually, of ancient Egyptian-themed blackened Death Metal. Can you tell us what it was like making it?
Ismaeel: Thank you! We are glad that you liked it and we are very happy with the overwhelmingly positive feedback we are getting from it.
Youssef: It was quite an interesting experience. It took 2-3 years to record but only a year or less to compose and we just kept refining it along the way. We took our time with it as we wanted it to be perfect (for us at least). We started rehearsing a few of the songs in the studio and even performed some of them at festivals in Europe and that's when we saw a huge reaction from the crowd. We recorded guitars at our bassist's home studio, vocals and percussions at Ganoub Studio in Cairo. Mixing/Mastering was done by HK of Vamacara Studio in France.
Luxi: I think it is a great thing that you have chosen your own heritage as the concept for your epic, blackened Death Metal. How important is it to tell people about it via your music?
Youssef: It is very important, it is our (and humanity's) heritage. There is a lot to learn from the stories of the ancients, it's not just fairytales or mythologies. The ancients were on to something and they reflected the realities of life and humanity in their religious views and philosophies. Some of their main principles, like those of justice, are crucial to our existence as species.
Luxi: Who was responsible for coming up the main compositions for this record or would you say it was an equal effort from all of you?
Youssef: Our lead guitarist/vocalist, Ismaeel Attallah, is the one that composes the riffs. We all pitch in with ideas and refine the compositions with added atmospheric elements. Amr, our drummer, adds the beats to the riffs and again we all give our input.
Luxi: Are there any particular songs off this record that make you proud of how they turned out? "The Will of Amon-Ra", maybe?
Youssef: We have to say all of them; it is very hard to pick one. Each song represents a certain musical aspect that we wanted to reflect. For instance, "Sons of Monthu" is more on the old school Death Metal side, the last three tracks have that epic and musically rich feel that we always target while the rest are mixes of violence, melody and a blackened atmosphere. Probably the most epic is "In the Name of Osiris" and the darkest is "Obscuring the Light."
Luxi: When you started out back in 1999, which bands did you consider your main musical influences?
Ismaeel: We are still influenced by the same bands; Dissection, Bolt Thrower, Death, At the Gates, Hypocrisy and so on. However, back in 1998 the music reflected the Swedish melodic Black Metal side of our influence. Today, we have all that along with our original sound that no one has done before, and you can always tell when a song is by Crescent.
Luxi: What is your opinion on bands like Nile and Melechesh which also seem fascinated by ancient Sumerian and Egyptian cultures and civilizations? Do you think these bands tell about these cultures accurately enough?
Youssef: We were never influenced by such bands, but we respect them a lot and they do reflect somewhat accurate representations of those ancient cultures. However, we can see that Nile sometimes adds some imagination or their interpretation of history in a certain way. Perhaps that's bound to result in some mistakes but they do their research and they do not mess around when it comes to it.
Luxi: Were there any obstacles at the studio while you were recording the songs for this new opus? If so, what caused them?
Youssef: The main obstacles we faced had to do with recording the album properly so that we could get the best outcome. We recorded the album twice actually, and that is due to technical difficulties that we faced which added more time to our recording schedule. We had many difficulties financially due to Egyptian currency being devalued overnight. We all lost 50% of our asset's worth and everything cost double now. This forced us to shift our plans, especially when it comes to working with others abroad.
Luxi: The album was mixed and mastered at Vamacara Studio in France. Why did you choose that particular studio? Did Laurent (Merle) from Listenable Records recommend it?
Youssef: We heard about Vamacara Studio a long time ago and we were in touch for some time, way before we started talking with Listenable Records. We knew that HK always does a great job with the bands he works with. HK is extremely professional and he was very enthusiastic and helpful getting this album done, so Vamacara Studio was the perfect match for us.
Luxi: Does Egyptian society have a conservative stance about Metal music or do they see it as some sort of decadence of western culture?
Youssef: It's not as bad as back in the 1990s when metalheads got arrested. However, it is not completely acceptable here and it is bound to stir up some controversies. They usually end up being some silly media stunts that fall short immediately because the public gets how stupid the accusations are. However, you have to keep in mind that "blasphemous" and "satanic" themes are absolutely not acceptable here.
Luxi: Have you ever thought of relocating to some other country?
Ismaeel: Some of us did, for personal/career/educational reasons, but it was never anything concrete and we plan on keeping the band active regardless. Perhaps if Crescent was based in Europe, it would've been more fruitful for us in terms of touring and whatnot.
Luxi: I noticed that the Cairo area has an active underground Metal scene bubbling under the surface, so obviously things look promising from that perspective, correct?
Ismaeel: There are many bands and some of them are mature enough but the majority, like the scene, is still in the early stages of trying to find their sound. Originality and maturity are not the dominating aspects yet. We recommend keeping an eye on Ahl Sina and Osiris.
Luxi: Are there any venues for (extreme) Metal bands to play in Cairo? Is arranging a gig for a Metal band totally forbidden or are you allowed to play basically anywhere in Cairo, as long as there's someone that wants to book a gig for you guys?
Youssef: It is allowed basically at only one venue, which is a cool one on the Nile, but you have to go through the hassle of all the permits and organizing necessities. That venue makes things easier since the promoter manages to get the permits. However, it is not easy to organize a professional concert here. There is only one real and serious promoter and we are headlining his festival, Metal Blast Festival, on 7th April 2018. The festival has hosted bands like Swallow the Sun before.
Luxi: Talking about playing live, I guess you are aiming at playing quite a bit this year, although your gig calendar looks empty thus far. Why is that?
Youssef: Well, it is not easy for us to have a tour in Europe (due to the currency issue) and most festivals think it is probably expensive to get us to perform there. However, we got many offers and we are negotiating for some festival shows in Europe. Anyway, we have quite a major one confirmed for the summer and we are extremely excited about announcing it. We'll see what the rest of the year will bring. We are already planning some dates for next year as well!
Luxi: The band played at the famous Wacken festival in Germany in 2014. What was it like for you to take part in such a massive and well-organized festival?
Ismaeel: It was an amazing experience, of course! We got to represent Egypt and all of North Africa and the Arab world at the biggest Metal Festival. It was extremely overwhelming but we can say that we totally crushed it!
Luxi: What kind of expectations do you have for 2018 with Crescent? Or are you expecting the unexpected, i.e. anything good can happen for the band?
Youssef: We expect that anything good can happen, because at this point everything is going great and we are developing really fast with the album release and whatnot. The future is extremely promising for us and this album is only the beginning.
Luxi: You shot a video for "Pyramid Slaves" off your debut album. Do you have any plans to do the same with this follow-up album of yours, just for promotional purposes?
Youssef: We have been discussing this and going over possible scenarios. It is not easy to properly shoot a music video here, especially outdoors. We have to find the right professional people and we have to avoid being cheesy! You would not believe that hassles that we had to go through to get that video done; the environment here is not the most helpful one. We even got questioned by the police for shooting such a video and we almost got our footage deleted! We'll see how it goes.
Luxi: Okay, I think that was it. Thank you so much for your time and all the best with Crescent in the future as well. The last comments are for you, so be my guest...
Ismaeel: Thank you for getting in touch and for this engaging interview!
Thanks to every single person who believed in us and in our music. You know who you are! As for haters, you are only consuming yourselves with your own envy.
Join our Facebook page to follow Crescent's latest updates! And like we said, we'll see you this summer in Europe!
Youssef Saleh and Ismaeel Attallah
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